The cold and flu season is definitely upon us and some of us have already succumbed to becoming ill. Some of us have not become ill. What is the difference? Why do some of people get sick while others do not? Keep in mind that a lot of these cold and flu viruses are around us all the time. It isn’t that these opportunistic pathogens magically appear at certain times of the year—they’re always around. It’s your ability to respond to them that changes with the seasons.When we get sick, it is more likely the result of your immune system being suppressed and not being able to fight off the bug adequately, and allowing the bug to get a “foothold”. What keeps us from getting sick is a strong immune system. I was asked by a patient the other day what kind of immune pill he should take to boost his immune system. I’m sure you have all seen the ads, especially this time of year. The better strategy to ask would be “what is taxing my immune system, and what things do I need to do to keep it strong?” Here are a few tips that are shown by solid research to keep your immune system strong.
1. Maintain proper Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is an amazingly effective antimicrobial agent, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi. It is estimated that 85% of the general public is deficient in vitamin D in the winter. Why? The primary source of vitamin D is through adequate sun exposure. As a very general guide, you need to expose about 40 percent of your entire body for approximately 20 minutes to the sun, between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm. This is because the rays of the sun need to have sufficient intensity which is achieved only at a certain angle to start the vitamin D synthesis in your skin. As a rule of thumb, if you stand in the sun and look at your shadow and your shadow is longer than you are, the angle of the sun is too low to give you adequate exposure to UVB rays. If your shadow is shorter than you are, then you are getting the appropriate exposure. The true angle of the sun needs to be above 50 degrees.
Since achieving enough sun exposure is nearly impossible this time of year, supplementation with a high quality Vitamin D supplement is necessary. To really know if you are maintaining adequate vitamin D levels, a simple blood test to measure for 25-hydroxy-vitamin D can be performed to determine your blood concentrations. The 25-hydroxy-vitamin D test can be obtained through your family physician or we can recommend a naturopathic doctor that can perform the test.
To find out more about vitamin D read: http://www.thebackdoc.ca/2013/10/vitamin-d-the-sunshine-vitamin-are-you-getting-enough/
2. Avoid Sugar. Sugar is particularly damaging to your immune system–which needs to be ramped up, not suppressed, in order to combat an emerging infection. Consuming too much sugar suppresses immune system cells responsible for attacking bacteria. Even consuming just 75 to 100 grams of a sugar solution (about the same as in two 12-ounce sodas) reduces the ability of white blood cells to overpower and destroy bacteria. This effect is seen for at least a few hours after consuming a sugary drink. Your body treats white flour products such as most breads, pasta, and white rice essentially the same as sugar.
3. Get proper sleep. Pay attention to how you are sleeping. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, or enough restorative sleep, you’ll be at increased risk for a hostile viral takeover. Fatigue increases your susceptibility to illness – you may have noticed you’re more likely to catch a cold or other infection when you’re not getting enough sleep. A lab experiment bears this out: When students at the University of Chicago were limited to only four hours of sleep a night for six nights and then given a flu vaccine, their immune systems produced only half the normal number of antibodies. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how sleep boosts the immune system, it’s clear that getting adequate amounts – usually 7 to 9 hours for an adult – is essential to good health.
4. Drink lots of fluids. Make sure you are drinking plenty of fresh, pure water. Water is essential for the optimal function of every system in your body.Avoid sodas, and drinks with artificial sugars.
5. Eat lots of healthy fruits and vegetables, preferably raw. There is little that compares to the nutritional value of raw vegetables. In addition to the B-vitamin folic acid, fresh vegetables have numerous other nutrients that will promote health and prevent diseases. And while you`re getting all rich vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, and therefore reducing your risk of many types of cancers, degenerative diseases and cardiovascular disease, you are also filling yourself up and reducing your appetite for those tempting bad food choices. JUICE! If you have a juicer, pull it out of the cupboard and start using it especially if you are finding it challenging to consume the recommended amount of raw vegetables.
6. Reduce your alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption can reduce certain white blood cells which are responsible for fighting viruses, by 75%!!! So cut out or dramatically reduce alcohol consumption this time of year. Researchers from the school of Medicine of the University of Massachusetts exposed white blood cells – the protagonists in the defense of the body against infections – chemicals that simulated bacteria and viruses. Half of these cells were introduced alcohol at levels proportional to those who would have a person who drinks around 28 weekly drinks.
The behavior of both groups of WBCs, emphasizing its capacity to react to viral attacks was then analyzed. And the scientists confirmed that the group that had this alcohol responded with only 25% of efficiency in comparison to the other segment, those cells were not influenced by the presence of alcohol.
7. Exercise! There are some things that seem to protect us from catching colds and the flu. One of those things appears to be moderate, consistent exercise. Research continues to support a link between moderate, regular exercise and a healthy immune system. Early studies found that recreational exercisers reported fewer colds once they began running regularly. Moderate exercise has been linked to a positive immune system response and a temporary boost in the production of macrophages, the cells that attack bacteria. It is believed that regular, consistent exercise can lead to substantial benefits in immune system health over the long-term.
More recent studies have shown that there are physiological changes in the immune system as a response to exercise. During moderate exercise immune cells circulate through the body more quickly and are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. After exercise ends, the immune system generally returns to normal within a few hours, but consistent, regular exercise seems to make these changes a bit more long-lasting.
According to professor David Nieman, Dr. PH., of Appalachian State University, when moderate exercise is repeated on a near-daily basis there is a cumulative effect that leads to a long-term immune response. His research showed that those who walk at 70-75 percent of their VO2 Max for 40 minutes per day had half as many sick days due to colds or sore throats as those who don’t exercise.
8. Optimize Your Gut Flora. This may be the single most important strategy you can implement as the bacteria in your gut have enormous control of your immune response. The best way to improve your beneficial bacteria ratio is avoid apply avoid sugars as they will feed the pathogenic bacteria. Also, our own “good” bacteria in our gut is constantly under attack by chemicals we ingest such as anti-bacterial soap residue, pesticide residue, chlorine in our drinking water, mouthwash, and past antibiotic use, we need to be constantly replenishing them. One of the easiest ways is to take a daily probiotic supplement.
9. Wash Your Hands. Washing your hands frequently will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Keep your hands away from your face!
10. Reduce Psychological Stress. It’s not only physical stress that increases the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Estimates have placed stress-related problems as the cause of 75 percent to 90 percent of all primary care physician visits. Psychological stress can also impair immunity and lead to an increase of cold and flu infections. Researchers at Ohio State followed people who had the stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease and found that they experienced twice as many colds as non-caregivers.
11. Reduce your physical stress. Research shows that physical stressors like poor posture and vertebral subluxation complex also increase stress hormones which can down regulate immune function. Research also shows that getting chiropractic adjustments can lower stress hormone levels and increase immune function! GET ADJUSTED!
You must address nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress issues the moment you first feel yourself getting a bug and preferably, of course, before! This is when immune-enhancing strategies will be most effective. At this time you can also try some additional therapies or supplements:
2. Garlic: an antimicrobial that kills bacteria, viruses AND fungi
3. Vitamin C: antioxidant properties
5. Propolis: A bee resin and one of the most broad-spectrum antimicrobial compounds in the world; propolis is also the richest source of caffeic acid and apigenin, two very important compounds that aid in immune response
Remember, the best strategy is always prevention. So think ahead during the festive season and if you plan to celebrate, make sure you give yourself adequate recovery time to do some nice things for your body as well.